ENGL 539 Portfolio Cover Letter

Footsteps in sand

cc image posted at Flicker by Andrew R. Whalley

Throughout the course of this semester, my technological proficiency greatly improved in ways I often didn’t notice until I  almost effortlessly accomplished a formerly difficult task. I have to remind myself of where I started, however, to fully appreciate this statement. Nearly all that was accomplished in the various projects for this course was a first for me.  Openness  the habit of mind pertaining to a willingness to think differently, was sometimes an obstacle to my learning process. I attribute this to a stubborn tendency to “go it alone” rather than seek the input of peers and experts. Happily, however, I was  finally able to accomplish my main goal of learning how to create a basic, classroom hypertext website incorporating suggestions made by several classmates. The  journey of expanding my technological expertise has truly been an adventure of not only self-awareness, but the realization that, as Marshal McLuhan says, “the medium is the message.”

This analysis is especially thought provoking as I reflect on the importance of audience in composition and how my use of technology sends a different message to that audience than a message written on paper. Unlike a letter written in the traditional, pen and paper medium, technological communication, through an Image Project devoid of text, evokes emotion directly through one’s vision without the need of translating words. I found that this does not make communication easier, only different. Photoshop Express, the image editing software that I used allowed me to add visual “adjectives and verbs” to my photo essay . Often though, in the excitement of learning a new technique, meaning was lost or confounded. I sharpened my focus on a more specific audience to clarify details for myself and my “readers”.

Metacognition  the habit of mind focused on making mental connections, was a challenge for me. The need to connect the message implied by an image to my choice of editing options sometimes confounded me. I realized that I needed to examine this important habit or I might continue to have difficulty connecting with my audience. In their book, New Media Design, Austin and Doust emphasize the importance of graphic design choices and that

no matter how important the message is, people won’t give it a second thought unless it is presented in a way that captivates and engages them” (116).

I learned that subtlety (or at least simplicity) is often the best path for beginners in all aspects of graphic design composition. I eventually gathered sufficient confidence and  resources while creating my Image Project with Photoshop Express to create an information wiki for beginners.  I learned through the creative process that although new media allows us “to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of thought, feeling, action, and reaction and to put these together in a unique response, expression or message”(quote from poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes) it still must ultimately connect with the intended audience to produce meaning.

Even when the audience is clearly defined, using multiple mediums and design elements can still cause a project to become unfocused. My class Video Project is a case in point. This project, created on Windows Movie Maker, was the most challenging for me because it required the coordination of visual and audio elements. I spent hours just timing the Free Music Archive track to coordinate with the still images in my project. Rereading Jeanne Verdoux’s description of the creative process (Austin and Doust 43), pen, paper, and hundreds of storyboard images, reminds me of how impatient I can become when working on even a simple computer design project consisting of only twelve images. But  Persistence  is a habit of mind that I’ve acquired over my lifetime by believing in my ability to succeed at most anything I seriously attempt. The desire to succeed at learning these new technologies energized my creative process.

An additional challenge to a multimedia composition is the huge amount of free software and image sites available that leads one to forget that images, music, and archived written material, are authored by an individual or group entity that often has ownership rights. I learned during this project just how complex (albeit nebulous) citing  electronic media ethically can be compared to the familiar MLA style citations I use as an English major writing traditional academic papers.

As I completed my final project, a hypothetical class website, I reflected on comments I had received on my blog from fellow classmates during the semester and how inter-connected computer technology has allowed us to become. My website connected to my blog, to outside resources,  and to documents in shared files that created an unending web of information and community. Englebart describes his vision of “reaching the point where we can do all of our work on line”  and the computer becomes an extension of ourselves, what he calls “man-computer interaction” (234). When I’m communicating by using a computer though I’m not interacting “with” the computer but with people, so as a teacher  Responsibility  is a habit of mind that I take very seriously. Being accountable to one’s students is the highest responsibility of a teacher. In the case of a class website, it became not only my desire to communicate, but my responsibility to provide information clearly, concisely, and ethically. The C.R.A.P. design principles:

  • Contrast
  • Repetition
  • Alignment
  • Proximity

provided the guidelines to accomplish my task. The end result was a clear, user-friendly network of hyperlinks to course documents, outside resources, interactive pages, and shared calendars. Deleuze and Guattari, in their article “A Thousand Plateaus,” written twelve years later, use the metaphor of a rhizome to describe and expand on the complex structure of Engelbart’s vision. Unlike a tree, that has one trunk with many roots, a rhizome is a bulb-like structure that although  connected to the whole, is itself a complete unit (hierarchy) “a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, [and] modifiable” (409). This is the essence of a thoughtfully designed website, something only imagined when these articles were written in the 1970’s and 80’s. Flexibility  the habit of mind that allows one to adapt as needed is a valuable personal asset and the very essence of hypertext theory.  I don’t believe that I would have had the success I did this semester (and retained my sanity) without the ability to be flexible even to the extent of an occasional about-face.

Cited:

Austin, Tricia, and Richard Doust. New Media Design. London: Laurence King, 2004. Print.

Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), National Council of Teachers of English(NCTE), & National Writing Project (NWP). (2011). Framework for success in postsecondary writing. Retrieved from http://wpacouncil.org/framework

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader.Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattaro. From “A Thousand Plateaus.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 407-409.

Engelbart, Douglas and William English. “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 233-246.

McLuhan, Marshal. “The Medium is the Message.” Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 203-209.

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Posted on May 2, 2012, in ENGL 539. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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